If you thought burning coal for electricity went extinct long ago, think again: Almost half of the electricity in the United States is produced from coal-fired power plants.
Besides contributing to acid rain, rising levels of mercury in the environment, and particulate pollution that can cause respiratory problems in humans, coal-fired electric power plants are responsible for 32 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
Coal-fired electricity plants are only about 35 percent efficient, and coal is a very high-carbon-content fuel. This combination means that this electricity comes at a very high greenhouse gas cost. If you use utility power that has a high percentage of coal-fired generation, don’t heat with electricity. This practice results in producing significantly more pollution compared to using other energy sources for heating. In these regions, using an electric resistance heater compared to a natural gas-fired furnace results in about four times the greenhouse gas emissions (per Btu of heat) if your utility relies on coal as its primary fuel.
The 100-plus new coal-fired plants planned across the United States represent a real threat to getting a handle on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. This alone is one reason to address electricity consumption as part of your carbon emissions reduction plans. If demand drops enough, fewer plants will be built.
Whenever possible, look to other energy sources, like the sun. If your site or situation can’t accommodate renewables, investigate utility options for supporting large-scale renewable energy (RE) projects. Many utilities now offer green energy programs. Supporting these programs lets your utility know that RE is a priority for you, and part of the small premium you’ll pay generally goes to support the development of new RE projects. If your utility doesn’t offer a green power option, purchase renewable energy credits (RECs) and petition your utility to develop a clean power program (see Access).